By Hannah Dalgleish, August 2018
The Foundations of Natural Intelligence (FNI for short) is a course unlike any other at Chisholme.
Instead of being held inside the house, the FNI takes place in the yurt village, in a secluded spot in the woods. The course is based on conversation — rather than text — but as with all courses at Chisholme, the FNI too is focused on self-discovery. This is done through themes such as oneness, and our relationship with nature, others, and the universe. The tranquil setting allows us the opportunity to live and work closely with nature for 7 days, with clean air, fresh water, warm shelter, and good food and company — in the absence of electricity, phone signal and wifi. In so doing, we discover the full extent to which we are responsible for nature, for ourselves and for each other.
At the end of July we participated on the second and final FNI course for 2018, which began just as the hot days and sunny skies came to an end. On the first night the heavens opened, as we lay awake wondering if we might be swept away by morning. The yurts held, and we awoke to find ourselves safe in our beds, eager to explore what the first day held for us. It was immediately clear that we were a diverse group, not only in age (spanning more than four decades) but also in culture and experience, where some had travelled from as far as the USA.
The beginning of the course takes one or two days to adjust and can often be the most difficult. It takes time to adapt to the rhythm and routine, as well as to the group’s dynamic, and to fully submit to being a student on the FNI. We aim to leave our baggage at the door and remain in the present throughout. There are facilitators on the course, but they are by no means “teachers”; everyone is a student — all exploring who and why we are as we delve deeper into the Heart. The schedule is packed full, with the majority of the day focused on conversation interspersed with meditation twice per day, and a siesta and work period each afternoon.
The yurt village contains everything one will ever need, all lovingly constructed by people at Chisholme over the past decade. There are composting toilets, hot showers (heated by fires we light overnight), a kitchen and dining table. There are 3 stoves and a clay oven where together we cook beautiful meals with freshly picked fruits and vegetables from the organic garden, as well as freshly baked bread. Working with wood, from chopping kindling to lighting fires to building wooden tools are integral to the course, just as much as the food preparation, cooking, stargazing and discussions around the campfire at night.
By the middle of the week the bond between the group was strong. The rain showed no signs of stopping, but that didn’t bother us. As one student said, it felt like the rain was sweeping out the guesthouse, opening new spaces for us to enquire into. We hiked up to Chapel Hill via the Monument to Man, accompanied by the deer and the rain. The contrast between our sheltered little village in the woods and the majestic rolling hills of the Scottish Borders was spectacular.
As the week sadly, yet inevitably, came to an end our hearts were raw and tender. When the rain eventually lifted and the sun to emerged it was a true wonder. Departure is bittersweet, but we parted with the knowledge that our paths would one day cross again. Whilst a lot was uncovered during the course, it remains clear that we will always be students on the path to self-discovery and that we must continually remember to stoke and feed the fire. The FNI woodland retreat grounded us in a safe and special shared living experience with a moment-by-moment awareness of the unity of all existence.
For more information and course dates, see FNI.